Economic development presupposes a sound industrial network. Leather industry is one of the contributors. It provides means of livelihood to lakhs of people and likewise caters to raiment needs & garment tastes of people, besides contributing to the exchequer with realization of revenue through indirect taxes on sales.
China is said to be the largest producer of leather in the world with yearly production of over 6.2 billion square foot of leather which constitutes more than 25 percent of the annual global leather production.
The raw material for leather comes from the hides, pelts and skins of the animals. Hide is a dried skin of larger animals such as elephant, camel, horse, male/female buffalo, bull, and cow. It is the animals’ outer body cover without hair on it.
The outer body cover of smaller animals such as goat, sheep, fat-tailed sheep, wild beasts, etc, having hair on it is called skin. Skin is outside of person also. Pelt is a broader word and can mean any type of leather coverage with or without fur attached.
There are green hides and green skins which mean hides and skins that have been dried or salted neither wholly nor partly. Green hides/skins are treated with tanning process to turn into leather for use in making bags, belts, jackets, purses, pouches, footwear, gloves, furniture etc.
Tanning permanently changes the structure of hides/skins making them more durable and less vulnerable to decomposition and colouring. Before tanning these are de-haired, desalted, degreased and soaked into water for six hours to two days.
Tanning drew its name from tannin which is an acidic chemical compound derived from the bark of certain trees and used in treating the pelts for leather.
The process of tanning being odoriferous and noxious the trade was relegated to outskirts of cities and towns. However, in 1800s an alternative method was developed using chrome tanning where chromium salts were used instead of tannis for making leather.
The Italians are famous for the best and the most skilled craftsmen due to their skilled artisanship, the quality hides and the dying process used in the production of leather goods.
As per reports India is the second largest producer of leather footwear and exporter of leather garments, third largest exporter of saddlery & harness items and the fifth largest exporter of leather goods with lakhs of people associated with this trade.
Tamil Nadu accounting for 40 percent of the country’s leather production is the largest leather producing state. Kanpur known as the industrial capital of Uttar Pradesh is also known as leather city for it has some of the finest and the largest tanneries of the country.
There are generally four types of leather viz, full grain leather, top grain leather, genuine leather, and the bonded leather if mentioned in the order of strongest to the weakest/cheapest respectively. Bonded leather is used in bookbinding, furniture and fashion accessories.
Genuine leather products are made from the leftovers of leather after the high end products are made. These products do not look or feel as pleasing as compared to first two types.
Jammu & Kashmir, especially Srinagar, has better and sustainable prospects for leather industry given the reasons and occasions for use of meat of skin bearing animals leaving skins as raw material. Reasons are climatic conditions, wedding & marriage ceremonies (where often & too much meat is used) and habitual precedence which compel or require the residents of J and K to consume more meat than in any State/UT of India.
The occasion is Eid-ul Azha whereon slaughtering of at least one animal is a must for every household that can afford it. Going by the population parameters of 1.30 crore people with ratio of Muslim population as 68.31 percent with average family size of five members, the number of households works to 17,76,060.
Taking 70 percents of the households who sacrifice one animal only the number of skins thereof comes to 12,43,242 which provides a considerable quantity of raw material for leather works on this single event. Government estimates (2021) put the annual consumption of mutton as 600 lakh kgs (GK.19-8-2021).
Adding 45 percent weightage before slaughtering makes the gross weight of 8.70 crore kgs. Taking average weight of live sheep as 40 kgs gives the live stock as 21,75,000 thereby meaning as many skins. According to mutton dealers in Srinagar 1,80,000 sheep skins are transported as raw material every month outside J and K for the leather industry in India.
Other analysts say that 3.5 million sheep/goat skins are produced in the market every year on an average. In terms of revenue, Kashmir leather industry is said to have the potential of generating Rs.600 crore annually to the state economy. All these are good indicators of better scope for leather industry to flourish in J & K.
There is, however, another side of the story that calls for some financial assistance and technical guidance to the artists/craftsmen enabling them to purchase and make A-grade leather.
All Kashmir Leather-Fur Manufacturers, Tanners and Dyers Association says that Kashmir despite being considered as a hub of raw material for A-grade leather, the artists can afford to buy ‘C’ and ‘D’ grade leather called suede leather to make lowest price leather goods like bags and belts or some jackets. The artists here hence make products at minor levels.
It is said that a lady’s leather bag which sells for Rs.200-250 for a craftsman here, the same bag of A-grade leather made outside J & K fetches Rs.2,000 for the craftsman.
It’s also said that due to Government’s meat policy the costs of skins have fallen from Rs.400/Rs.300 to Rs.40/Rs.30 which stalled the progress of the trade and resulted in livelihood crises to the concerned. But for determined minds no peak is insurmountable.
Crises are less an adversity to get cocooned and more an opportunity to be exploited. One way is that instead of depending on exporting raw skins outside J & K, the artists may tan it here to produce finished goods locally.
These finished goods will be cheaper to the buyers and more profitable to the artists & the craftsmen due to involvement of little overheads.
Finished goods at cheaper rates will extend buyer market and increase sales yielding greater profit to the dealer and more revenue to the economy.
Meat is eaten everywhere in the world. The leather industries are fed on skins and hides of the animals slaughtered, sacrificed or killed due to euthanasia or diseases or accidents.
J & K is no exception to this global activity. Producing leather from the skins and the hides appears to be in the interests of humankind. To boost this sector Government too sanctioned (11/2021) Rs. 650 crore for the Leather Treatment Plant at Lassipora in district of Pulwama.
Setting up of more Leather Treatment Plants in all the districts would have been a more welcome step to fill the industrial vacuum.
The author is a former Sr. Audit Officer and Consultant in the A.G’s Office Srinagar.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.